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Fragile


Article published in The Observer, 2000 04 09 — An obituary by Erin Pizzey, describing the life of her grandson and the circumstances of his death.  He committed suicide. He could still be alive if he had been treated in a hospital instead of being jailed.  But, he was a man, a young man.

WHY DID MY GRANDSON DIE?

Original title "FRAGILE"

By Erin Pizzey


I realise I am frightened of writing this article about the death of my twenty-two year old grandson Keita Craig.  I’m frightened for two reasons; the first is because he was diagnosed last summer as a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ and the image of schizophrenia is that of a knife-wielding maniac.  In the end, Keita did indeed conform to this media stereotype.  He attempted to snatch a handbag from a perfectly innocent woman and then punched a man who tried to stop him.  Keita was very gentle and we think it was a cry for help; a failed attempt as it turned out, to get somebody in the huge phalanx of ‘experts’ that invaded his life to pay him some kind of concrete attention.  What the poor woman must have seen was a six-foot man of mixed race attempting to mug her.  If she’d had time to look at him she would have seen that he rocked uncontrollably from side to side.  This was one of the many unwelcome side effects of the bi-monthly injections.  Secondly, how does anyone explain the crippling and unpredictable effects of mental illness not only for the sufferer but also for the family?

My daughter, Cleo, was only fifteen when Keita was born.  His father Mikey was seventeen.  After the initial shock of my child giving birth to a child, I comforted myself with the thought that Keita was born into two big loving warm families who welcomed him with all their hearts.  I was going through a divorce at the time and facing a great deal of political persecution from the feminist movement.  The first time I held Keita in my arms and looked down into his enormous, luminous brown eyes, I felt my first-born grandson was fragile.  Eighteen months later, his sister Amber was born, and I was relieved to see that she was a tough little survivor. 

Living with Keita was like living with a miniature Kamikaze pilot.  He never walked when he could run, and if he wasn’t running -- usually straight into trouble -- he was dancing.  Cleo and Mikey and their two children lived in my house with Amos, my natural son, and several other boys who chose to live with us.  Keita and Amber grew up in a house that was filled with books and music.  Within a few years Mikey was organizing the group that was to become Culture Club.  George, John and Roy were frequent guests.  Amos was rapping on the first Culture Club album ‘Kissing To Be Clever,’ and Keita and Amber modelled Culture Club style clothing with their mother and father. 

In many ways those early years of my grandchildren’s lives were idyllic, but for me there were serious political considerations.  I lost my refuge [the Chiswick Women's Refuge], and finally the police informed me that all my post had to be diverted to the bomb squad.  During a tense visit from the bomb squad to my house I saw the fear of Keita and Amber’s faces and it was then that I made the final decision to go abroad.  Culture Club had yet to make their fortune, but Cleo knew that Mikey needed to be free to spend much of his time touring the world and she opted to come to America with me. 

We settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I paid for Mikey to come and visit the children.  He built them a magnificent fort in the back garden and then left to continue making music.  I think the years when we lived in Santa Fe and then subsequently on a tiny island called The Brac, in the Cayman Islands, were the happiest in Keita’s life.  There he was able to find the freedom he needed.  When we arrived in Santa Fe, Keita removed the planks from his bunk bed and named them Jesus, Mary and Jose.  They all had to be fed before the family could sit down at the table.  I watched Michael Jackson’s ‘Killer’ video fifty six times with Keita.  Mikey sent Keita a bright red Michael Jackson jacket with the gloves.  Keita without an ounce of self-consciousness walked through the malls in Santa Fe smiling and waving at his adoring public and signing autographs. He did indeed look like a miniature Michael Jackson and with the almost frightening ability he had to morph himself into any character he wished, he convinced a great many people.

While we were in Santa Fe, we were unable to keep Keita in any of the schools.  The state school found his eccentric unmanageable, and the little private school announced that he had a ‘wire loose.’  What was upsetting was that his innocence and his vulnerability brought out the worst in some people.  We were a big multi-racial family.  Amos and my adopted sons came out to visit.  The sight of Amos and Cass’s Rasta locks was enough to inflame the local red-necked households.  Our dog was shot one Christmas day and two others stolen.  Keita and Amber were discriminated against and many of the children were told not to play with them.  I made the decision to move to the Cayman Islands where the families were 60% mixed race.  It proved to be a wise choice.  Both children were very happy there and settled into the excellent local primary school. 

Cleo married Dervin on The Brac and Didi was born in 1990.  Cleo came back to England in 1992 with the children, and Keita very quickly formed his own group ‘The Cabians.’  Amos helped him to make demo tapes, and he was close to getting a contract.  Keita also applied to go to ‘The Brit’ a school devoted to music and the arts in Croyden and he succeeded.  He won a Levi competition and was offered a modelling contract but already there were shadows surrounding him.  From being an intensely energetic, busy, popular boy he slowly began to withdraw into himself.  Drugs were epidemic amongst his peer group, and he began to smoke marijuana.  He spent more and more time in his bedroom listening to his music or sleeping.  Cleo was worried about him and arranged with Mikey to attend family therapy. 

Now began the dreadful saga experienced by so many families who try to get help for their loved ones.  By the time Keita was sixteen we knew that he was seriously mentally ill.  He was never diagnosed as a drug addict but he was ‘drug sensitive.’  This means that even small amounts of marijuana made him hallucinate.  The first time he was taken into the Pagoda Ward in Queen Mary’s Roehampton, we realised that Keita was badly in need of treatment.  When I went to visit him, I was shaken by the amount of sedatives he’d been given.  The slurring of his speech and the confusion in his eyes haunted me.  As he slipped into his hallucinations his world became a very terrifying place.  He often told me that he was afraid of walking the streets.  Of course, his doctors would say it was because he was paranoid, but I knew that Keita was afraid of being a mixed race, six-foot tall man.  ‘People look at me funny, grandma,’ he said.  He was afraid of the police stopping him for questioning.  He hated the idea of violence but inevitably because of his size and colour violence intruded upon him.  Buying marijuana brought him into contact with drug dealers and other addicts.  He had his worst hallucinations on crack and ecstasy.  His friends, like with most addicts, were other drug addicts, mostly young men.  Local councils housed them in flats and they shared their drugs and their alienation from a society that largely ignored them.  The National Schizophrenia Foundation helped and advised us as we struggled from one appointment to another.

Cleo and I met up once a week to clean Keita’s little flat.  He loved his ‘pad’ and though he kept it tidy by now he had degenerated to where he smelled.  After his stay in hospital he agreed that he would make me a list of food that he liked to eat and I would bring it for him.  Eventually, we made our first visit to my local Tescos.  He was frightened and unaccustomed to the crowded supermarket.  In time he looked forward to our shopping expeditions, and I was childishly happy the day he decided to add tuna fish to his diet.  Amos, who was more of a brother than an Uncle was very close to Keita.  Even when Keita was at his worst, which meant that his eyes rolled up to the ceiling and he carried on whispered conversations with his tormentors, Amos took us all out for meals and family celebrations.  Sometimes Keita rewarded us with his brilliant smile and his wicked gurgling laughter.

I had just come out of hospital when Amos telephoned to say Keita was in Richmond police station.  He told me not to worry; Cleo would be at Richmond magistrates court the next morning.  Cleo came to have supper with me the next day, Tuesday 1st February.  I couldn’t understand why Keita was sent to the hospital wing of Wandsworth jail on Monday 31st of January.  Why wasn’t he sent to a mental hospital?  Cleo told me he had been desperate and suicidal in the prison cells at the magistrate’s court.  ‘Don’t worry mum,’ she said.  ‘He’s on a fifteen minute suicide watch.’  I hugged her when she left at around eight thirty in the evening with my little grandson Didi.  ‘At least he’s in safe hands,’ I said.  ‘However awful the situation is, maybe we can get something done for him.  At least we can both get a good night’s sleep.’  There was to be a hearing in Wandsworth the next day to hopefully get Keita diverted to a mental hospital for treatment. 

I telephoned Cleo at eight o’clock the next morning.  His godmother answered the telephone.  ‘Tell Cleo I’m praying for Keita,’ I said and then I heard Cleo crying.  ‘Keita’s dead,' his godmother said.  ‘How?’ I asked bewildered.  ‘He hanged himself with his trainer laces,’ she said.

The last time I saw Keita we’d been shopping and he had chosen a huge sirloin steak.  He hugged me and said, ‘I love you grandma.’  He smiled and waved, clutching his carrier bag full of goodies.  The next time I saw him he was in his coffin.  I watched my son carry my grandson to his grave.  Since Keita died in Wandsworth prison two more men have committed suicide.  When will it end?

About Erin Pizzey

Suicide Statistics

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Posted 2000 04 09
Updates:
2000 04 09 (to show the title under which it was published in The Observer)
2001 01 31 (format changes)